Traditionally, Chinese people begin preparing for the new year starting from the Laba Festival,
which falls on the eighth day of the twelfth month in the traditional Chinese calendar.
This year it's on January 10th, 2022.
What's the origin of this holiday? It actually wasn't called Laba at first.
In The Book of Rites or Liji, it was written that emperors would do a ritual called La in the twelfth month
to show appreciation to eight deities who govern agriculture and ask for blessings for the new year.
Therefore, the twelfth month of the year is named the La month and the day this ritual is held on is called the La day.
This was the original festival before Laba existed.
It is believed that this La ritual was originally created by Shennong or the Divine Farmer during the Three Sovereigns period.
This custom was then passed down and practiced during every dynasty later on.
Part of this La day celebration includes worshiping the deities, as well as having a large feast.
It was recorded that Confucius and his disciple Zigong had a conversation after watching a La ritual celebration.
Confucius asked Zigong if he's happy seeing the celebration.
Zigong replied, "The entire country is celebrating like they are going wild. I don't see what's there to be so happy about."
Confucius said, "People worked so hard for a whole year but only get to celebrate for one day.
That's not something you can understand.
Allowing people to strike a proper balance between work and rest is the way great sage rulers like King Wen and King Wu of Zhou manage their country."
So back then, La represented the end of the year, a time to rest and celebrate as well as conducting rituals to worship and thank the agriculture deities.
After Buddhism was introduced to China during the Han Dynasty, the story of how Shākyamuni came to enlightenment also became popular in China.
According to the Genealogy of Shākyamuni from the Liang dynasty,
Shākyamuni was born a prince but renounced his wealth and position to pursue cultivation in the woods.
He practiced asceticism and only ate two pieces of grain per day and sometimes only two pieces per week.
He suffered for six years and his body became extremely weak. One milk maid offered milk-rice congee to the prince.
经历了六年的苦行，他的身体变得极其虚弱 。一个挤奶女将牛奶粥送给这位王子 。
He realized suffering alone is not the right path to enlightenment.
So he ate the congee, regained enough strength and eventually attained righteous fruition, therefore becoming known as the Buddha.
The day Shākyamuni achieved enlightenment is the eighth day of the twelfth month in the traditional Chinese calendar.
It is therefore called Laba festival in China.
La refers to the twelfth month or La month, and Ba means eight in Chinese, referring to the date.
It is also known as the Enlightenment Day of Buddha Shākyamuni.
Buddhist monks and laypeople would make mixed grain congee on this day to celebrate this event.
As Chinese buddhism became more and more rooted in China, it also influenced Chinese culture.
The Laba festival and La day celebration eventually merged into one holiday.
And now making and eating grain congee is the most symbolic custom of this holiday.
The mixed grain congee monks make on Laba festival is called the Laba congee, but was also referred to as the buddha congee.
During the Song dynasty, there were seven ingredients in the congee to represent the seven treasures of Chinese buddhism.
People would start cooking it the night before, offer it to the buddha when it's ready, and then eat it or gift it to others.
By the Qing dynasty, there were more and more ingredients added to the list,
such as yellow rice, white rice, glutinous rice, foxtail millet, water chestnut, chestnut, red cowpea,
jujube paste, peach kernels, almonds, peanuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, melon seeds, grapes, and more.
And the Laba congee also got a new name, called "babaozhou" in Chinese,
which means eight treasure congee, even though sometimes there are a lot more than eight ingredients in there.